You have the floor, minister Macron

Regard sur l'innovation par Emmanuel Macron, ministre de l'Economie, de l'Industrie et du Numérique

You have the floor, minister Macron

Mr Minister – you have just come back from the 2016 edition of the CES at Las Vegas where France was ranked top for the start-up attendee exhibitors. How do you explain ongoing wave of pessimism in France and what positive actions could boost to support innovative ventures and opportunities?

You are right. There is wide gap between, on one hand, the energy deployed and the successes of the French, their strong will in day-to-day living, to get up and out and progress, to innovate, to create business and enterprise, and in contrast the ambient, deep-reaching, deeply rooted pessimism when the French look at their future together.

I am personally convinced that to stop the erosion, so to speak, we must engage in a double revolution, the first of which is ‘cultural’. We have been shackled for far too long now in a logic that stigmatizes those that fail – we have clear evidence of this in our schools and throughout the academic cursus – with the reverse effect of a sense of wrongdoing for those that succeed. You can surely agree with me that this leaves a very small margin for manoeuvre! The spotlights must be focused on the success stories of our economy to demonstrate to all that France is a country that has the courage to take on challenges and to innovate. That is how we can put an end to “French-bashing”.

The second revolution is tied to innovation. We still imagine that innovation is ‘top-down’, i.e., initiated by the major companies and/or by State incentives. We simply are not looking in the right direction! Today innovation is ‘bottom-up’ with multiple initiatives. It should be in the responsibilities of public authorities to accompany and support those who innovate and to remove the stumbling blocks they meet, enabling their creativity to flourish.

Let me take two examples, we have made provisions that the CIR (research investment tax relief) become a solid institution for companies that innovate and I also reorganized the French industrial policy perspectives round 9 solutions that help the business sectors (especially the SMEs) to reorganize themselves in terms of investments, corporate transformation, innovation and to be in the forefront for future markets.

UTC saw three of its start-ups present at the CES2016. As you know UTC is a combined “grande école” and University. Do you think it could play the role of a nursery structure for a future French economy? If so, what actions, in your view, would this involve?

Universities and the French ‘Grande Ecoles’ are already to the forefront in innovation and entrepreneurship. 37% young people today say they intend to set up (or take over) a business concern; what was an exception 10-15 years ago has now become commonplace. So to accelerate the movement, we created the statute of student-entrepreneur, precisely so that students can set up a business during, or just after completing their HE training courses without losing their social security protection as it stands.

We also created students poles for innovation technology transfer and entrepreneurship acronym PERPETIE in French). UTC also allows its students to access the Picardie Regional, PEPITE. I want to encourage you to go knock on their door (if you have not as yet already done so). Lastly, innovation is the field where research scientists draft, frame and think through a project and the enterprises implement them. That is why we must strengthen even more the links between academic teaching establishments and the business work-places.

We can already see synergies like this elsewhere in the world, and they represent the future of business innovation. All the skills, all the ingredients are out there to ensure that French innovation reaches and stay at the cutting edge of world successes here. We just need to bring the actors closer together!

Could Europe itself be a positive lever to improve national competitivity levels?

Europe today is not only a lever to improve corporate competitivity in general, but I believe that it presents the best chance we have in French to see our economy become one of the most competitive in the world. The EU Single Market zone provides a great opportunity for our companies. There are close on 500 M consumers and this allows them to undertake large scale development possible. This huge market also gives access to new technologies and to a reservoir of talents that are not found elsewhere round the world. Our companies are currently in direct competition with American or Chinese giants, for example, in the digital- driven sectors so we must be in a position to make best use of all the resources we have in Europe.

That is why the bolstering of the single market and the improvement of European competitivity have been taken as two of the main priorities for the formation of the European Council of which I am a member. Allow me to recall a quote from Jacques Delors that sums up fairly well the way I see the EU Market, quote “Competition that stimulates business, cooperation that strengthens bonds and solidarity that unites us”. It is indeed because our enterprises are facing a much larger market area that they become more competitive and at the same time, inasmuch as they are European, they have common challenges to face. I should add for the UTC students that Europe is a tremendous opportunity for young French people to head elsewhere and complete their studies or even set up businesses outside France.

To allow them to travel even more simply, I proposed that the Erasmus programme be generalized, open to all young people in Europe as of the age of 18, to spend at least a semester in another European member state, to study to complete an apprenticeship. I am convinced that gaining training outside France is a positive way to see young French people to return with new ideas and to innovate here, in France.